FIFA's chief of global football development Arsene Wenger is the driving force behind plans to hold a World Cup finals every two years instead of four; former England players Michael Owen and John Terry among those invited to Qatar to meet Wenger as part of FIFA's consultation process
Wednesday 8 September 2021 18:22, UK
FIFA will reveal more details on Thursday about its plans to hold a World Cup finals every two years.
Some of the most famous former players and coaches in the game are meeting FIFA global head of football development Arsene Wenger in Qatar over the next two days to listen to his plans for the future of football.
Wenger wants to change the international match calendar so there are major tournaments every summer and fewer qualifying games during the year.
Former England players John Terry and Michael Owen are among those who have been invited to Doha to meet Wenger as part of FIFA's consultation process.
Although the proposals are set to be opposed by UEFA and clubs and players in Western Europe, they could prove to be popular in the rest of the world.
166 of FIFA's 211 member associations voted to carry out a feasibility study into the proposals first put forward in March by the Saudi Arabia Football Federation. All 211 FIFA members are likely to vote on the proposals before the end of the year and if they are endorsed, the World Cup finals could be held every two years from the summer of 2028.
The World Cup is FIFA's main source of income and, unlike UEFA, it does not have lucrative competitions such as the Champions League to provide it with a steady stream of revenues all year every year.
Speaking to French newspaper L'Equipe last week, Wenger said there would not be more games under his plans and players would be guaranteed at least 25 rest days every summer. Players would also spend more time at their clubs because there would only be a maximum block of two qualifying match periods every year.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino says biennial World Cups are being considered because the majority of member associations voted to look into the prospect.
"Let's not forget that 166 associations, 88 per cent of those who voted were in favour, with a majority from all continents to look into this matter of feasibility," Infantino said.
"That's what we are doing: studying the calendar, consulting everyone, starting of course with the protagonists of football, the main actors of football - the players, the coaches.
"The process is led for men's football by Arsene Wenger and for women's football by Jill Ellis, so two top personalities of football, because this is a football project."
Infantino added there are too many "meaningless" international matches as it stands.
"I think that the status quo of the international match calendar shows us that we have reached some limits," he said.
"The current release period for national team football in this particular period, exacerbated by the COVID situation, shows us how difficult it is today for players to travel from one country to another, from one continent to another, to start the season typically in Europe, to stop the season to go and play for the national team, to come back and play a few games, to go again, to stop and go to a different continent, to a different time zone.
"It's not good for the health of the players, it's not good for the competitions. There are too many meaningless matches. We need to look into what more can be done. We have to have a system which is simple and is clear, which everyone understands."
The World Leagues Forum, the association representing professional leagues at world level, says it rejects plans for a biennial World Cup.
A statement read: "The World Leagues Forum will oppose any proposals to hold the football World Cup every two years and dilute the historical and traditional values of a competition that means so much to fans and players.
"The World Cup is a symbolic and unique sporting event. FIFA's leadership cannot be able to turn something exceptional into a commonplace event purely to serve their short-term interests.
"A biennial World Cup would negatively disrupt the football economy and undermine players' welfare in a calendar that is already overloaded.
"As the employers of players and developers of the game at domestic level, leagues request full and transparent discussions so that the football calendar, which requires a complementary balance between club matches and national teams, can be agreed upon by all parties involved to benefit the game at all levels over the long term.
"Working together with all football stakeholders, the World Leagues Forum will ensure FIFA is not allowed to make unilateral decisions on the future of football against the interests of leagues, clubs, players and fans."
Staging the World Cup every two years will be a "strange concept" for a whole generation of football fans, Gareth Southgate has told Wenger.
England boss Southgate has met with Wenger to discuss plans for a biennial World Cup and is "open-minded" to the proposals.
"I actually met with Arsene a couple of weeks ago, he was meeting a few different coaches so I have a pretty good idea of the proposals," Southgate said.
"I think the whole calendar needs reviewing. My feedback would be - I don't know - that our generation is going to find a World Cup every two years a strange concept.
"But I also know that things like The Hundred in cricket have been an incredible success, so I'm open-minded about some of those things. But the calendar generally needs to be tidied up. We can't keep adding more things in.
"I agree generally with the concept of better quality matches. Fewer matches, better quality across the board, but there's lots of other things that need consideration and we can't just add more in at the moment."
Southgate refused to offer his own opinion on whether he believes the plans would be a success and would like the players themselves to have a say on proposals.
"We keep adding more competitions in and I'm intrigued to see what comes out to allow that space to happen because we can't keep adding onto the workload of the players," he added.